Supercaring - the midlife caring crisis?

Thursday 22 June 2006

Supercaring - the midlife caring crisis?

  • A new breed of 'dual responsibility' carer is emerging as longevity increases
  • The number of middle-aged 'Supercarers' is set to rise by 50% by 2020
  • Changing family structure has a positive impact on the emotional attachment between grandparents and grandchildren

If you are one of the lucky people that live well into their old age, you could be contributing to the evolution of the 'Supercarer' a new breed of carer with the dual responsibilities of looking after both children under 16 and elderly parents, according to Saga.

Compiled for Saga by the Future Foundation, the study has revealed that falling birth rates and increasing longevity is having a major impact on the family structure of the UK population. Children and adults alike are more likely to know their grandparents and even great grandparents unlike previous generations, but the knock-on effect of this is that more and more people are taking on the role of a Supercarer, looking after both children and/or grandchildren and elderly relatives at the same time.

The Supercarer

There are around 2.5 million Supercarers in the UK today, and this figure is set to rise by 50% to 3.9 million people by 2020. The majority are aged between 45 and 55, and almost four fifths (78%) are women. Supercarers are less likely to work than their peers - 38% are employed full time compared with national average of 45% - and it follows that a greater proportion of their income comes from state benefits. The vast majority are married - 80% compared to 55% of the population

Research shows that dual-care giving often has a serious impact on the life of a Supercarer both physically and mentally. Fewer Supercarers say that that they are satisfied with their lives (65%) and have a general feeling of well-being (59%) (national average 75% and 65%). Just over half (54%) say that they are satisfied with their social life compared with two thirds (66%) of the population as a whole.

Most worryingly, being a Supercarer has a negative impact on mental health - for example 27% report problems with concentration compared to just 17% of the UK population.

Other findings on this topic include:

Supercarers are poorer for caring - stopping their care giving role tends to have the effect of increasing personal income

They are more likely to be under strain - 36% report being more constantly under strain compared to 27% of the population

They are more likely to suffer from lack of sleep (27% of Supercarers are affected compared with 19% of the population)

Supercarers are also more likely to say that they find family responsibilities inhibiting

A regional breakdown shows that there are a disproportionate number of Supercarers in Yorkshire and Humberside, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland - and fewer than expected carers in London and the South East*

Andrew Goodsell, Chief Executive, Saga, commented: "The fact that we are now living well in to our old age is a very positive thing. But, for some, increased longevity of family members is certainly taking its toll on the people who care for them. While people willingly take on this role, Saga's research highlights the fact that 'Supercarers' face increased stresses and strains, and that these pressures have an adverse effect on their overall health, wealth and well-being."

The impact of the changing family structure - the grandparent / grandchild relationship

Even though young people are more likely to know their grandparents and great grandparents compared to previous generations, the study shows that they do not feel any closer to their grandparents than older generations did, despite having a longer relationship as a result of their grandparents living longer.

Well over half (55%) of all young adults born in the 1980s had all four of their grandparents alive when they were born, compared to just over a quarter (30%) of people born before 1930. Twice as many people aged 50 and over had no grandparents alive than people under 25 today.

Similarly, the generation born in the 1980s are the first generation to have on average more than one great-grandparent alive when they were born. Over half (53%) of people aged under 24 had a great grandparent alive compared with just a third of people aged 50 and above.

The investigation also examined the impact changing family structure is having on emotional closeness within the family. On average grandparents feel very close to their grandchildren**. They show more emotional attachment than the average adult feels for their parent, siblings and best friend. In fact only the bond between parent and child and with a partner is closer.

Grandchildren in general feel a closer emotional attachment for younger grandparents. They feel closest to grandmothers who were under 40 when they were born and least close to grandmothers who were over 60 when they were born. Interestingly, the reverse was found to be true with individuals' emotional attachment to their mothers. People with mothers aged 35 years old and above when they were born felt closer to them than with mothers below this age.

What does the future hold?

In the future is it possible that people in the 45-55 age group could find themselves at the centre of a five-generation living family, with grandparents in their 90s, parents in their 70s, children in their 30s and grandchildren. This undermines the traditional model of adults just caring for one, or two generations, and raises new questions about what one generation can expect from another.

In addition, by 2020, the number of grandparent, grandchild relationships in the UK is set to increase from 53 million to 68 million, a 28% increase. It has become clear that there is a greatly increased role for grandparents in childcare responsibilities, but no indication that grandchildren are helping share the burden that comes with looking after grandparents and great-grandparents. At present only 4% of Supercarers are caring for their grandparents.

Andrew Goodsell concluded: "Families are becoming more multi-generational and whilst this means future generations will have the benefit of knowing their grandparents and great-grandparents, it also has implications for how much time and money they will have to put towards caring for their extended families in the future. The mortality age for women is also decreasing, but the effect this will have on future generations and the potential reduction in the number of people to take on the 'supercarer' role remains to be seen."


Notes to Editors

* Related to economic strength of region - those regions with highest GVA ie, London and South East, have lowest rates of Supercarers - can afford to outsource; lower rates of people who need caring and higher rates of mobility.

** Several factors have an impact on the strength of emotional closeness and on the type of interaction between grandparents and grandchildren including geographic proximity, gender, whether the grandparent is maternal or paternal, age, time of grandparenthood, marital and employment status, race and ethnicity and health.

% of supercarers % of UK POP

London 8 10

South East 16 20

South West 9 9

East Anglia 3 4

East Midlands 7 8

West Midlands 8 9

North west 10 11

Yorkshire and Humberside 11 9

North 6 5

Wales 8 5

Scotland 9 8

Northern Ireland 4 2

Research carried out for Saga Group by the Future Foundation on a sample of 1,813 people (with a specific over 50s sample).

Other sources used to produce the study include:

Changing Lives - the Future Foundation's bi-annual survey of people covering public and consumer attitudes, values and behaviour from 1980 to the present day.

The British Household Panel Survey - a joint venture with the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at Essex University and is a longitudinal study that provides information on many aspects of people's daily lives.

For further press information please contact the Saga Press Office on: 01303 771529.

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